Clashes have erupted between Saudi-backed anti-riot police and anti-regime protesters in Bahrain's eastern city of Sitra as a military court has announced death sentences for four protesters.
Bahraini authorities said on Thursday that the death sentences were issued after the military court found them guilty over the killing of two policemen in recent protests. Three others have been given life sentence.
Reports say that Bahraini troops have shot at the protesters during the clashes.
Earlier, Saudi-backed forces used poison gas on anti-regime demonstrators. One protester is reported to be in serious condition.
On Wednesday, Bahraini forces reportedly raided a medical center in Sitra and detained several doctors.
Rights groups and relatives of the condemned men, all Shias, dismissed the proceedings as a farce.
“They were activists in their villages and we think they were targeted because of their activities,” said Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
“This will deepen the gap between the ruling elite and the population,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
Amnesty International's Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Malcolm Smart, objecting to the death penalty, said that since the accused had been tried by a military court, he fears “about the fairness of the entire process.”
The Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah also issued a statement strongly condemning Bahrain's decision.
“Such a judgment is a continuation to the crime committed by the regime in Bahrain against its people,” it said.
“The reality of matters shows that these judgments are political and not judicial,” the statement added. “The regime's attempt to [show] it is a judicial [matter] will not succeed in hiding the truth of what the Bahrain people are [suffering] from. They are being oppressed because they are demanding their legitimate rights.”
Bahrain is a staunch US ally and is host to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.